Plagiarism in Non-profit Publication

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  • Greetings,

    I would like to run a situation by the readers of this board to get a better idea about a situation I am presently involved in.

    I'm a member and co-worker of a small non-profit which publishes an internal journal for its membership. Recently one of the members of the group's board of directors published an article in our journal that was clearly plagiarized from several online sources. I was pretty troubled by this and I know that the offending board member was told to cease and desist any further contributions to the journal, but I'm still rather uneasy that nothing more was done.

    The person who was the main source plagiarized is known to be rather pro-active on defending his copywritten works. I would like to know if our organization would be in any way legally liable for the publication of the plagiarism and if it could in any way jeopardize our standing as a non-profit since nothing more then a "slap on the wrist" letter was issued once it was brought to the CEO's attention.

    Does anyone have any insights into this situation or any resource ideas for finding out more about how to best handle things?
  • Here's my take: It depends what you mean by plagiarism.
    Plagiarism in and of itself is not illegal. In many situations plagiarism is unethical, but unless it goes beyond plagiarism to actual copyright infringement I don't believe there's legal liability involved.
  • Let's assume that we are dealing with both plagiarism and infringement since both can happen at the same time. As mentioned earlier, plagiarism is not a crime, but infringement is.

    If your organization did not print the article in question, you have no problem. I think dealing with the problem (telling this person that they infringed and plagiarized) internally is the way to go.

    If your organization did print the infringing piece, then you could have some liability concerns. if the copyright holder went to court, he would decide who to sue. He could choose to name your organization and the infringer if he thought it was the best strategy.

    Please note that the copyright holder is the only one who can sue an infringer. It's their decision. They have to prove that they hold copyright for the work in question and they have to prove that an infringement actually occurred. A third party cannot take an alleged infringer to court.

    You are not responsible for reporting an infringement to the copyright holder but you could if you wanted to. I don't think it is at all worth it in this situation because you did not print the piece. In fact, you stopped the infringement from causing harm by not publishing it.

    Perhaps you think the infringer should have to pay a price for his wrongdoing beyond a verbal warning. That's up to your governing body to decide I imagine. You could kick him out of your group or refuse to print any of this work - these type of things.

    Hope this helps.
    -carrie r
  • Thank you for the replies.

    To clarify the situation the plagairism in this case as serious enough to qualify as a copyright infingement as every word of the piece was a direct copy from the sources being passed off as original work.

    Additionally the plagairism was not discovered until after the piece had been printed.

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